‘Ethical’ and ‘eco’ seem to be tandem keywords at this season’s London Fashion Week, driving a lot of labels to adjust their policy to the fairtrade rules by promoting local crafts for decent wages. The British Fashion Council is supportive of the young home grown and international fashion entrepreneurs who implement ethical solutions into their daily business practice. Such initiatives seem to help a great deal in introducing genuine enthusiasm for traditional crafts, as well as respect for local heritage. But where is the line between sincerity of such goals and shrewd marketing?
To start on a positive note, this year’s finalist of the BFC International Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award went to Oscar Lawalata from Indonesia, whose label Oscaroscar was praised as a model for the emerging economy’s fashion sector, promoting traditional fabrics and employing many in the process. The runner-ups for this award were all dealing with recycled and traditional textiles as well as with ethical sourcing of local craftsmanship.
Already at the exhibition, I spotted another ethic-driven label: Leju, who produce delightfully colourful jewellery made from vegetable ivory. The designs – a nice balance of contemporary and ethnic shapes – didn’t treat themselves too seriously which is refreshing. The label is said to boost Latin American crafts, where the vegetable ivory comes from, as well as offer an alternative material to elephant tusks. At a nearby stand, a more lavish version of ethical policy was represented by Isharya who was promoting Indian semi-precious stone-encrusted jewellery, handcrafted by artisans in Jaipur and set in gold.
Sure I agree with ethical sourcing and recycling, but it wouldn’t be the fashion industry if it didn’t exaggerate the theme, would it? For example re-using old, ragged…I mean vintage, linen cargo-bags (full of stitches) and styling them into chic handbags beats me (Tamara Fogle). Finished with imported Italian leather, washed-off prints and crowned with a price that makes you weak at the knees, they were pretty enough, but how much of it is really ethical?
A label called One confused me even more: it used beautifully preserved Victorian laces and fabrics and ‘recycled’ them into bucolic eclectics of semi-transparent frocks (to be worn in boudoirs rather than in public). I wasn’t convinced at all about the good cause behind the astronomical quotes; to me it still sounded more like an extravagant marketing ploy.
Luckily, the new generation of designers counter the excess in ‘eco-ethic-friendly’ strategies and celebrate the genuine local folk and their artistry. I especially admired Ginta Siceva’s elaborately crafted leather jewellery and Rina Dhaka’s collection of Indian-inspired clothes. I hated the frocks, mistrusted the cargo bags, but I left the London Fashion Week exhibition hoping that the BFC’s initiatives to make the fashion industry a fairer one for the emerging markets are more than just another trend to be implemented in the marketing strategies of money-hungry labels.
The London Fashion Week exhibition runs until Tuesday 24 February, 10am – 6pm
Natural History Museum
Corner of Cromwell Road and Exhibition Road
South Kensington SW7 5BD